If we had an award for "best audience" it would go to the city of Toronto. Every single screening at Hot Docs was packed with a crowd, which gave themselves over to the story on screen and lived through the roller coaster of emotions, laughter and tears. It was palpable.
There was a ritual: Every screening started with a humoristic advert to celebrate and thank all the volunteers who make the festival happen. Everyone applauded.
For the last two years Hot Docs has been experimenting with ad lib sessions and one of them is The Soap Box where you can rant, shout or just wonder aloud. This year was again hosted by filmmaker and blogger AJ Schnack, and I was selected with a few other speakers, including Peter Wintonick, to speak from the 'pulpit' of the documentary church.
Ban the word "about"
- Peter did a very eloquent plead to ban the word “about” at festivals and documentary forums. What a challenge! How can we talk about our films without that magical word? Why should we even consider banning it? Well, he had a good argument: "About" leads us straight into content of the film and makes us forget that we are storytellers selling stories, not social workers outlining sets of problems.
The 9th Berlinale Talent Campus (BTC) took place February 12-17 2011, in Berlin as part of the International Film Festival, now in its 61st year. The lucky group of 350 participants who gathered in Berlin, were selected from over 4000 applications and hailed from 88 different countries. The purpose of BTC is to bring together up-and-coming filmmakers and around 150 experts for a series of masterclasses, workshops and networking events over the course of six days.
I was one of the lucky ones, and together with two filmmaker friends from Edinburgh, I made my way to Berlin on 11 February. Not only did BTC cover the cost of our flight, they also put us up in a city-centre hostel. It was a nice place, but we didn’t have very much time to spend there as BTC is 6 days of intense attending and socializing. I don’t think I made it to bed before 2am every single night.
DocPoint Helsinki Documentary Film Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and it was high time to visit this fine festival for the first time, after much recommendation by a number of filmmakers and programmers.
"Whatever you do, make sure you are there on Thursday evening," I was told. So on Thursday we were invited to “Uunisaari” – a sauna/dinner adventure....
"I didn't want to be a woman looking over my shoulder. I rather go towards things that frighten me – and draw attention to the situation." (Penny Woolcock)
Penny Woolcock, born 1950, grew up in Argentina's English ex-pat community before settling in England in 1970, working in factories and other jobs. Even as a school girl she was more interested in the edges of things - for example the life in the favela underneath the bridge she passed every week on the way to church. She only took to filmmaking in her thirties and never formally trained as a filmmaker, which has led to some crew members commenting: "You work really differently." Penny says: "Ignorance can be bliss!"
Pitching workshops can be a bit brutal. They ask you to distill your film into a sentence or paragraph and sometimes simplify your film a bit too much. Focus is good, but you do need some unknowns to keep the mystery of the filmmaking process alive, and the urge to find out more.
Our commissioned Bridging the Gap filmmakers were relieved when they realised that the directing workshop with Mike Palmieri and Donal Mosher (October Country) was not about finding the great one liner, but going deeper into the heart of their films, uncovering what makes a character great, what made the filmmakers interested in them, and how to get most from them. It was an intense two days in which Mike and Donal gave themselves whole-heartedly to the films and filmmakers. Often it's not about discussing camera technique, or 'knowledge', but what you bring to the table as a person with life experience beyond your identity as a filmmaker.
The perfect (documentary) antidote to Sheffield Doc/Fest is definitely CPH:DOX held in Copenhagen from the 4th to the 14th of November. The festival moves at a far more laid-back pace and whilst having an industry focus with a forum, market and masterclass’ a plenty, feels so much more about celebrating creative storytelling rather than rushing around trying to catch the latest commissioner to pitch your idea to. I have a feeling that I could pitch to someone there at ‘leisure’ during one of the many food and drink parties that take place throughout the city. Being a filmmaker, of course both festival formats have to exist in order to survive and get your work out there but sometimes we get lost in trying to fund our films and forget to watch!
Last Friday, Scottish Documentary Institute and CMI (Centre of Moving Image) held their first joint masterclass with the special guest Gaelle Vidalie, representing the legendary Cannes Director’s Fortnight. The idea of that session was to engage Scottish filmmakers with a festival whose philosophy is based on discovery and creative energy. As an introduction Gaelle screened the documentary film John Cassavates by Hubert Knapp and Andre Labarthe. It was a beautiful recording of John Cassavetes, shot in Hollywood 1965, while he was editing Faces, and 1968 in Paris, when the film was finished. Fifty minutes listening to the inspiring credo of Cassavetes affirming that you can make independent, free films in America if you dare to follow your convictions and forget about the limits of your credit card. His words and creative energy was wonderful, life enhancing, a must-see – not just for every film student but every filmmaker in the room to be reminded why we make films. It was fascinating that the truth of many of his statements was still meaningful to 2010. Perfect choice of film to describe what the Director’s Fortnight search is about. (You can watch a 10-min excerpt here.)
I had a wonderful dream yesterday that I met the perfect documentary producer. Oh yes… all of you directors are going to say!
The good news is: it was not a dream. She comes under the name of Sigrid Dyekjaer, and is the most funny, bright, energetic, sexy woman going round. Do I sound envious? Oh yes, but it is nice envy, because it makes me all the more attentive to what she has to say. And yesterday at a special SDI masterclass she talked for nearly three hours to an audience who could hardly allow themselves to breathe with fear that she may disappear in a puff of smoke. But no, she was solid, real and fed her crowd tenderly with lovely morsels of wisdom.
Scottish Documentary Institute is launching for the first time year-round submissions of Scottish documentary projects in development (shorts and features) to our Docscene project pool.
From the submissions a number of suitable proposals will be selected to go into a development and consultation process whereby the filmmaker will be advised on one or more of the following:
- synopsis, proposal, full treatment, trailer
- story development
- financing strategy
- rough cut (if available)
- festival strategy (for completed projects or rough-cut stage)
- online marketing/financing strategy (any stage)